The hockey season is finally upon us, as the first training camp practice was held today at the Saveology.com Iceplex. In fact, by the time this piece goes up, the first practice will have just ended. Of course, with training camp comes position battles. Rookies are trying to make names for themselves, and veterans are trying to keep their NHL careers alive. There is plenty of that for the Panthers this year, and fans might want to keep a close eye on some players to see if they can take over a certain position for the Panthers this year. A few of these positions are up for grabs right now.
First-Line Right Wing: Perhaps the most important battle right now is who can play right wing with Stephen Weiss and David Booth. The smart money says that Kris Versteeg will lock down the spot, since he is a right winger by nature, and he has a good right-handed shot to complement his other offensive talents. However, Tomas Fleischmann has shown glimpses of amazing offensive skills, and he could steal the role if Head Coach Kevin Dineen thinks that he could be more productive on the top line. The only problem is that Fleischmann fills in better as a left winger and is more comfortable in that position. When things play out, I do believe that Versteeg will capture that first line spot, but Dineen will be sure to give Fleischmann plenty of ice time on the second line.
Seventh Defenseman: One of the young players to make an extended call-up last year was Keaton Ellerby, who was at least decent in his time with the Panthers. However, with the acquisitions of Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski and the call-up of Erik Gudbranson in front of him, Ellerby might be pushed back into the AHL unless he shines in camp. Dineen might want to keep the 3rd line pairing of Mike Weaver and Jason Garrison together since it was so solid last year, so Ellerby might have to fight for only the seventh defenseman spot with Nolan Yonkman. I think Ellerby will get it, and he will be a nice fall-back in case a defenseman is injured or not playing well. However, don’t count Ellerby out for taking one of the top six defenseman spots either.
Fourth Line Center: I went over this battle in more detail on Wednesday, mostly concerning Shawn Matthias and whether or not he can secure a spot on the Panthers roster. There are a lot of centers behind him that are more than capable of taking his spot, both veterans and prospects. It will be curious to see if Matthias can fight them off and take that spot again, or if another player can steal it from him with a good training camp. It is within the realm of possibility that Matthias gets shifted to a wing and a player like Tomas Kopecky takes this spot, but this is certainly the most up- in-the-air of all the position battles.
Backup Goalie: Last year, uber-prospect Jacob Markstrom made a brief apperence in relief of Tomas Vokoun against New Jersey. That was it as far as NHL experience is concerned. Panther fans would love to see Markstrom have a tremendous camp and slide his way into a backup goalie role, I think Scott Clemmensen’s role is safe for now. Panthers’ brass would love to see Markstrom do well, but most of the staff agrees that Markstrom should get some more seasoning in AHL before making the big leap to the Panthers. Clemmensen can sleep easy, but only for a few months.
So what do you think, Panther fans? Do you want to see a player win a position battle? Be sure to comment.